Oklahoma native Parker Millsap at just 20 is, frankly, the real deal. Raised in the Pentecostal church by parents with a love of blues and country music this release is a sparse, desolate piece of work that owes much to his personal history and Oklahoma itself.
The first thing you notice about the album is the voice. Millsap is young but his voice seems fully formed, a little gravelly but with range and versatility. The voice suits the songs perfectly, if he gets ragged it’s because ragged is required. The other striking aspect is the instrumentation, it’s sparse, very sparse, an acoustic guitar, upright bass a little percussion with the occasional steel guitar and fiddle as and when required. Is that a muted trumpet on album opener ‘Old Time Religion’? This gives the album the feeling of age. It sounds old but ageless, traditional yet of its time.
At the end of the day it’s about the songs. Luckily Millsap has songs to spare. The aforementioned ‘Old Time Religion’ sets the scene as the protagonist ‘makes his decisions down on his knees’. While on ‘Forgive Me’ a young man questions his faith and the dark, strident, ‘Quite Contrary’ has fairy tale characters heavily involved in the drug trade. The arrangements and sparse instrumentation do give an overall feeling of melancholy, ‘The Villian’is a thing of aching beauty. Not to say it’s all doom and gloom as the clever lyrics are able to paint some light relief on the gentle shuffle ‘Disappear’ when a couple plan to, or more likely, yearn to relocate ‘Leave your mothers china and all our original plans’ the husband advises.
I’ve picked out, what I consider, a few highlights but it’s all good here. I believe the album is getting a UK release on September 1st and then later in the year Parker Millsap is guesting on tour with Old Crow Medicine Show. Now that is a marriage made in heaven.
Update: Parker Millsap / Old Crow Medicine Show Live Review
For the ninth studio album of their twenty-year career, Lucero were seemingly keen to switch things up a little. After a run of albums with producer Ted Hutt that utilised horns and more complex arrangements to fashion a Memphis soul-influenced sound (they even found room to slip in a tune by Memphis’ favourite sons Big Star) frontman/songwriter Ben Nichols and the band went in search of inspiration. They found it in the rear view mirror as ‘Among The Ghosts’ strips the arrangements back to their very foundations and reveals a darker sound more in keeping with their roots. When coupled with a change in Nichols’ approach to his writing, bought on by a settled family life and the birth of his daughter, the results are impressive. The horns may have gone but the soul remains.
Formed way back in 1985, Cowboy Junkies have become something of a Canadian institution over the decades with a run of albums released to both critical and fan praise. Things started off on a slightly unusual note with a covers album ‘Whites off Earth now!!’ before their sophomore release ‘The Trinity Sessions’ would put them on the world map selling over a million copies. Thirty years on from that particular landmark Cowboy Junkies return with their first album since 2012’s ‘The Wilderness’. This new release has been referred to by songwriter-guitarist Michael Timmins (one of the three Timmins siblings that form 3/4 of the band) as “These songs are about reckoning on a personal level and reckoning on a social level”. With this in mind, and as few bands do reflective melancholia better than Cowboy Junkies, this should be good.
Until now, The Milk Carton Kids have been Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan alone but for their latest record they’ve gone for a full band treatment to fill out their sound. And it’s a lineup to die for, featuring, among others, Jay Bellerose, Pat Sansone, Russ Pahl and Dennis Crouch. Everything remains light-touch however and the duo’s twin vocal and acoustic guitars remain very much in the foreground. The pair have been through some personal changes too in the time since 2015’s hit LP Monterey, with Ryan now a father of two and Pattengale surviving a battle with cancer. Thus, ATTTIDAATTTIDD (even as an acronym it’s a ridiculously long title) sees The Milk Carton Kids reflecting on how they got this far, while simultaneously forging ahead with a new chapter to their story.
In our house, space is a very precious commodity. Instrumental guitar records have to work extremely hard to earn their place on the CD shelves (yes, I do know what Sonos and Spotify are, and no, no thank you). No matter how impressive, super-noodling is not enough if there is no musical heart beating beneath. Thankfully, the latest release from celebrated Canadian guitarist Steve Dawson has that beating heart and yes, he has the hands to match.
After a spell touring as a duo, Dublin-based Lucky Bones have returned to a full band sound for their third album Matchstick Men. Rocky and reflective in equal measure, the record doffs its hat to some musical heavyweights and doesn't pale in comparison. It also offers us a glimpse of songwriter Eamonn O’Connor’s gift for pitching downbeat emotion against a decidedly upbeat musical sensibility.
When Glenn Frey passed away in 2016 he left a legacy of music of which any artist would be proud. Over the years his work as a solo artist and with the Eagles seems to have divided opinion, for every Eagles fan there seems to be hater just around the next corner, a situation I’ve always found very surprising. ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Their Greatest Hits 1971-75’ (the latter of which is the second bestselling album of all-time with 29,000,000 sales in the USA) are a fitting tribute to Frey and his talents. After forty years I’ll still happily spin 'Hotel California' and those early hits, which I consider to be solid gold classics, and I’m pleased to report the Library of Congress selected the hits album for preservation as "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" so I’m in pretty good company. The 3-CD + 1-DVD set ‘Above The Clouds’ finds us venturing far from those early country rock roots as Frey the solo artist seemed content to follow his muse wherever it took him, generally in a soft-rock / soul / R&B direction. The results, especially looking back in the cold light of day, are uneven but not without some genuinely standout tracks, all of which are presented with a professional sheen when maybe, on occasion, a little grit would have been welcome.
Growing up there was one album that never seemed to be very far from the old stereo in the back room (as we called it) of my family home. That album was ‘Johnny Cash at San Quentin’ and to this day I can’t hear that album and not think of my Dad. There always seems to be a debate over the Prison albums but for me, it’ll always be ‘San Quentin’ that I’ll reach for and Johnny Cash would, in a roundabout way, become the inspiration for Red Guitar Music, but that’s another story. I have a good deal of respect for John Carter Cash and the Cash family who’ve treated the Cash catalogue, in the nearly fifteen years since Johnny Cash passed with great dignity. No signs of mud-slinging and courtroom battles here, maybe the likes of the Zappa and Prince families should take note.
Looking back, It must have been four years ago and the fledgling RGM was just starting to get noticed by Pr companies and labels. It was an exciting time; a review of the self-titled Parker Millsap album would lead to an invite to see him open for Old Crow Medicine Show on their UK tour, at The Roundhouse in London, in support of the ‘Remedy’ album. Parker was excellent and he fully lived up to the promise of his record and Old Crow would be up next. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t really fully aware of O.C.M.S. much beyond ‘Wagon Wheel’ but a very quick spin through the highlights of their back catalogue on the day of the show made me think they could be pretty good. Obviously, as any fan of the band knows, they’re a monster live act with songs and musical dexterity to burn. Needless to say ‘Remedy’ became pretty popular in the RGM office in the days that followed so when ‘Volunteer’ hit the RGM inbox I was very keen to check it out.
This band’s moniker may make them sound like a municipal leisure centre but, thankfully, an unassuming supergroup is actually what lies behind the name. BWP are Robin Bennett, Danny George Wilson and Tony Poole. Many readers will know Danny Wilson from his time fronting Grand Drive and Danny & The Champions of the World and some will know Robin Bennett from his work with The Dreaming Spires but BWP’s secret weapon is veteran guitarist and producer Tony Poole. Poole was one half of Starry Eyed and Laughing who released two records in the mid-1970s earning a reputation as the ‘English Byrds’. If you pair Poole’s pedigree, and famed mastery of the 12-string Rickenbacker, with Wilson and Bennet’s background in contemporary harmony-driven Americana you’ll already have a decent idea of where the band are coming from.
Possibly the most shocking statistic I’ve come across in recent times is the following: It is estimated that 7400 current or former members of the United States Armed Services take their own lives annually. This is obviously not just a problem specific to the USA, here in the UK military personnel face the same challenges on active duty and when their tours end. SongwritingWith:Soldiers is a non-profit organisation, founded in 2012 by singer-songwriter Darden Smith, which pairs veterans and active duty military with songwriters to hopefully confirm the old idiom “A problem shared is a problem halved.” With this in mind Mary Gauthier’s ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ could well be the most important album you’ll hear this year.
Dane Joneshill and I have a few things in common: we both write songs and make records; we are both slightly ill-at-ease with social media; we’re the same age and we both know the simultaneous joy and pain of life as a domestic dad. Obviously, I shouldn’t let this sense of kinship colour what ought to be an objective appreciation of his debut album, Everything That Rises Must Converge, but it’s just possible it might.
I have recently taken up photography as a hobby, not digital, but on film. I am shunning “Auto” and taking time to compose each shot, being choosy about what I take, as the roll is not infinite. As such, each shot becomes treasured, even if it does not come out as expected. Bob Bradshaw’s new album, ‘American Echoes’, has the feeling of a treasured photo album crammed with fond memories and experiences. Indeed, Bradshaw started his journey in America, which has led to the content of ‘American Echoes’, way back in 1989. It is a product of the people, places and venues he has visited and the experiences he has had in his adopted homeland. It draws on classic American genres ranging from country and folk to bluegrass and the blues. The album is a celebration and a document of the dreamers, poets and sinners that he has met on his journey across the nation’s landscape.